the importance of boiled eggs

Mar 4, 2021 poetry appreciation

Lots of things are simple but not easy. Today’s poem makes this point, and in such a delightful way it makes me smile. Have a go at ‘A Quiet Life‘ by Baron Wormser—Garrison will read if you like (at about 2.27)—and see if it makes you smile too.

There’s an old-fashioned flavour to the poem’s vocabulary, a quaintness and fastidiousness in its voice which I find quite charming. It’s polite, “proper”, delicate: not raving. It has the intimate air of a conversation with a gentle, loveable and slightly eccentric friend, a delightful mix of the old-fashioned (‘hoodlums’, ‘kerchiefs’), the cliched (‘scheming girlfriends’) and gleams of quietly dazzling imagery (‘a cluck chained to the chore of her body’). The poem suggests there’s a ritual, “right” way to eat a boiled egg and there’s something in the careful, semi-formal nature of the poem’s diction which echoes that sense of order. The language distances itself from the violent, ‘sweat-soaked’ and distasteful even as it acknowledges it.

And yet, despite all this modesty and understatedness, the poem makes a clear point about the ‘life of telegrams and anger’, of business and busyness, of mines and manufacture, of powergrids, pylons and politicians. It’s hard to escape or avoid; impossible, perhaps, to do anything even as simple as eat a boiled egg without being implicated in all of it. ‘A Quiet Life’ gives you pause.

… and there’s a completely different kind of delight for me in finding another poem about boiled eggs! This was first published in Cake magazine in 2020.

‘matins’

I wake knowing my heart won’t weight-bear,
today. It needs help: crutches, a cast, something.
Downstairs, back door open, drag chair into yard,
sit. Ok, this much achieved. Next?

Water-drum changes note as kettle fills; water arcs
out, splashes. Cold; irritating. Hiss of gas, click,
whoomph, thud. Kettle-roar climbs slowly.

Eggs. Yes, a morning for eggs. Childhood’s food,
something brought on a tray, something
you can manage
: what you have when
you don’t know anything. The cool sure matt
weight in my hand. Spoon lowers them
into bubble-pearled water, where they rattle and tick.

Six minutes. Tea to make, and toast. Knife-rasp
through crust; more gas roar; scrape and glide
of butter. Choose plate: old, floral, delicate.
Pour small conical mound of salt, like sand
gone through a timer. Spoon. Measured thwack
of knife through shell. Into yard, plate on table, sit.

The curve of spoon fits the curve of shell, eases out
the glossy white; I feel it cling for a moment, then release.
Yolk-gold oozes, noon-bright. The wind nudges me,
offers the pale scent of lilac, a reminder of something
important; I begin to notice bird song, plant rustle,
the sheer abundance of green. Food finished,
I rest my hands lightly on the plate’s rim, realise
I’m not, after all, going to spin off the edge
of the world. Not yet. Not today.

I slide shell and crumbs into the opened mouth
of the bin. Leaving the washing-up, I dress,
find keys and purse, head out to the shops.

I must get some more eggs.

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